Pickleball: Let there be light; Astronomers: Want to be in the dark

“Pickleball is for everyone,” so the sport’s motto goes — but not everyone is for more pickleball.

The Bainbridge Island Metro Parks and Recreation District heard initial proposals for pickleball court expansions and retrofits at Battle Point and Strawberry Hill parks at its public meeting June 6, including two new courts, covered playing areas and more parking.

Parks board members estimated that the project would likely cost between $2 million and $3 million.

Pickleball is the fastest-growing sport in the nation and one of Bainbridge’s major claims to fame, and the facilities should reflect that, members of the BI Pickleball Club said.

However, space at Battle Point is a valuable resource, and other occupants had some concerns.

BI is the birthplace of pickleball, but it’s also home to Battle Point’s Edwin E. Ritchie Observatory, the largest public telescope in the Pacific Northwest. The relatively dark skies of BI are essential for sky gazing, and they can easily be disrupted by artificial light pollution — such as streetlamps, or floodlights for sports facilities that happen to be less than 500 feet away.

Pickleball player Tom Kelly opened the club’s presentation by stating in no uncertain terms that, “There has never been discussion of exposed lights at the Founders’ Court” at Battle Point.

However, it’s not just the court lighting that could present an issue, said Frank Petrie, president of the Battle Point Astronomical Association.

“I did hear that the proposal includes lights — albeit covered lights,” Petrie said. “But will the expanded parking area have lights? The exit road for the parking area goes right by the observatory; how will headlights be mitigated? I really don’t want to see lights of any kind added to the park.”

Astronomers and athletes went back and forth during public comment. Each group showed ardent passion for their respective hobbies and weighed the advantages and drawbacks of the updates with gravity.

Scott Daniels, member of the Battle Point Alliance neighborhood association, and Richard Velasquez, a pickleball player, both reminded attendees to take a bird’s eye view of the issue and seek compromise.

BI Parks “has done a great job balancing the uses of Battle Point so far,” Daniels said. “It’s not that we don’t support pickleball. Having wrestled with this issue twice now, what we have is a great alternative in Strawberry Hill.”

Velasquez made the point that in the area’s all-to-common rainy weather with cloudy skies, it would be impossible to use the telescope anyway. In good weather — natural daylight provided — there would be no use for court lights, and stargazing could proceed unimpeded.

“I think there’s a mixed-use opportunity here, to schedule the use of lit courts and the park,” Velasquez said.

Lighting conflicts aside, the addition of covered courts that are free-to-use would be a huge boon to the community, pickleball club members said. Some attendees noted the economic boost that could arise from tourists attracted by the park’s versatile facilities.

Kelly recounted meeting a group of pickleball tourists who came from Utah to play on the Founders’ Court. They were pleased that it was free but shocked that there were no options for indoor play during inclement weather.

Local athletes agreed. “My life is centered around school and volleyball, and ever since I played my first game of pickleball, I’ve been hooked,” said Shay Pippinger, a Bainbridge High School student. “Earlier this week, it was pretty stormy, and we ended up playing almost in the dark, not being able to see the ball. But it was one of the best times of my life. If we were able to get these covered courts, we wouldn’t have to worry about slipping.”